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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 23, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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[captioning performed by kcet public television] >> good evening from los angeles. first up tonight, a conversation with rock legend robie robertson. the former member of the band is out now with a solo project called, how to become claire voint. the project features a number of high-profiled artists including clapten, winwood. and larry flint is here, the creator is out with a new book about the private lives of the former presidents, called, one nation under sex. glad you joined us. robert and publisher larry flint coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra hest help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes.
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>> robert is a legendary guitarist, singer, song writer who rose to prominence in the group, the band, the banding final concert in 1978 as you know, the basis for one of music's famous documentaries
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the last waltz. also an acclaimed solo artist whose latest cd is easily the most talked about. how to become claire voint, featuring an all-star artists, how to become. >> ♪ ♪ >> i think today the element of drawing upon what you have in your atic of music that you're going to do some music and you draw upon these things that you gathered over the years. and that's the traditional part of it. and then the way that you see it today and the way that you hear it now and you put that spin on it, and that's what makes things have hopefully a timeless quality to them. >> so robie, since i'm not, what is in your attic?
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>> you'll have to listen to this a few times then. won't you? yeah. this is a and music and things that i picked up along the side of the road over the years. and i just, it's great that i was able to culminate this into a record. this is not usually the path that i take of, you know, telling my own stories. i like -- i've always liked taking the position of the story teller where you could tell any stories. but this became a very personal journey. >> talk about your story telling in a second. put this cover back up for me. i love the music on the project but i love this cover and i love the title. tell me about the title and this cover. i love this shot. >> this is a friend of mine whether or not took this, anton corbin, and he is one of the great photographs of all time in my opinion. and he did a lot of work for this project.
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he did a lot of things. and one of the things that's really enjoyable about working with him, too, is he takes these pictures in 30 seconds. you know, a lot of these guys are in there, having you bend over backwards and do stuff. this is nothing. he just does it. and makes it happen. and he took a picture of me that i had this, there's this magazine and then another one that i had. and it said on the magazine, become clarvoint. and so he said, well, let's use that. so all of these pieces to the puzzle started fitting and so that's why i wanted to work with him. >> you've got a whole lot of friends. who isn't on this project? >> and it wasn't -- it wasn't with that purpose at all to, whatever you would call that, stacking the deck or whatever you would call it. these are people that i admire and that i thought it was really brilliant casting for this project.
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and in the middle of doing this record, i did the music for martin score sesse film which i do a lot of those. but i had a break in the middle and worked on that film, and it gave me time to have some clarity and some of the ideas from the film came over. but i ended up casting this record much like you would a movie. >> you mentioned martin's name and i mentioned it a few times. like i know him. his name has come up a few times in this conversation. without coloring the question too much, when i say that name, what do you think? you know this guy. >> well, i know him for a long time and know him pretty well. we have just a great working relationship and a great friendship. and which started, i first met him after he did mean streets. his first major picture. and from that, i could tell that this guy had something up his sleeve. i could tell that there was
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some magic in there and he had a way of dealing with music like i had never seen before. and then when it came time for me to think about who would be the best director to capture what we were going to be doing in this thing, i thought, well, i'll make a list of directors that would be good for doing this and i wrote his name down and that's as far as i got. i went to him and i said, you know, could you do this? and he said these people, these are all my favorite music people. i have to do this. >> back on the last waltz all these years later, what do you think when you look at that project now with all these years in the rear view mirror? >> well, i think that this was a certain peek in music right when we did this. we didn't know it at the time. and it was, there was people at that time that called it the end of an era and for a lot of
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the artists that were involved in this project they were like spokes in a wheel that made up this music that we were inspired by. people that represented new orleans, people that represented chicago blues and british blues and tin pan ally and on and on and on. so to be able to gather this much musicality in bun evening was a feet unknown to mankind at the time. and then for us to play with everybody and go from dr. john to joanie mitchell in the blink of an eye, it was, i don't know, guinness book of records should have been in on this one. >> if those persons who referred to this as an end of something, if they're right, to your mind it was the end of what? what was it the end of? >> i think that there was a thing that happened in the 60's where there was a unity in this
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nation, in north america that the voice, the spirit of the youth were so connected and the music really became the voice of that generation. and at this time in the 70's, that dream and that idea wasn't the same as what it was then. and you just had to look at it through a different lens. >> when you look back on that era, you've chosen in this project to be open, to be authentic, to be transparent about your own personal journey. >> the good, the bad, the ugly, the drugs, et cetera. why at this point in your life be so open about all of that? >> i'm not sure. that's one of the things about song writing that the creative path just takes you sometimes. you're not in charge all the time in doing this. and on this record, most of the
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time in writing these songs i would sit down and something would come and i would follow that and see what was around the next corner and what was around the next bend. and all of a sudden i would realize what i was writing about was revealing itself to me. that's where i was starting to feel what was around the next corner or what was around the nesk bend. >> you referenced earlier the notion of story telling. i note obviously as your fans do that you do that well in your writing but you've signed a three-book deal at randomhouse and they think that you're a good story teller. talk to me about your process for story telling and what makes a good story. talk to me about story telling. >> this thing first struck me when i was a young kid. my mother was born and raised in the six nation indian
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reservation. and besides it being, this was when i got introduced to music. everybody played music there so i needed to get in on this club when i was a young kid, is the way i felt. but after the music was played, then the elders would come in and they would sit down and everybody would gather around and they would tell stories. and it would give me chills down my spine when i was a kid. and i thought, when i grow up, i want to be able to do that. i want to learn how to do that. so it got established at a very young age for me that this was something that i was drawn to. and it's something that i've been striving for, for a long time. >> in retro spect, should the band have broken up? did the band have to break up? >> the band didn't break up. the band went in different directions. nobody said i'm leaving the
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band, i'm breaking up the band. that was not the idea at all. the idea when we did the last waltz was that we were going to bring this chapter to a conclusion. we had been doing that for 16 years, and we had done it every chitch way that we could. and at that time, we needed to -- we needed to shuffle the deck. we needed to do some thinging to get focused, to get into a place with we could do our best work. let's bring this to a conclusion. we're not going to be going out on the road. we're going to concentrate on the creative process. and we, some of the guys in the band, we had separate projects and things at the time. we thought that's healthy. everybody will go off and do something that they're interested in, and that way we'll come back fresh and focused. and we all went off and did things, and nobody came back. >> the name, the band obviously
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worked. but how did you guys settle on that? and number two, what might we have called you guys had it not been the band? >> well, the reason that this name made sense to us at the time, we had already been together for seven years when we made our first album, music from big pink. so we couldn't be thinking of silly names. and there was a lot of silly names at that time. and when we were working with bob dillon, people just called us the band. when we were living up in wood stock, people would say that's one of the guys in the band. we got used to it. and then we really wanted to represent ourselves as five guys who did something very, very unique and special in their own way. and that's what would make up a real definitive band. this was not a singer and a guitar player and some other
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guys. this was really five people that everybody played a very, very important important part in. >> you referenced, we referenced in this conversation earlier the 60's. i wonder whether or not for all that you might not miss about the period, the drugs, et cetera, i wonder whether or not you miss in any way the social activism, the social energy, the engagement, the involvement of that period in american history. >> there's a song on this record that i'm really referring to that called "when the night was young." and on that song i'm feeling that's something that's missing now. everything that when i was talking about the youth of the nation and this connection and having this really powerful voice and people saying we can make a difference and we can make things happen, now it peels very fragmented and disconnected. and i miss that. and i couldn't help but just
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reflect on that. >> not that you ever went anywhere. obviously you decided to stop doing the tour thing. but not that you went anywhere. but how does it feel to have an album that is the most talked about project this year? everybody's talking about this thing. >> i don't know about that. i've -- >> trust me on that. go with it. >> go with it. ok. i'm going to try to go with it. i'm delighted because this was maybe the most enjoyable musical experience i've ever had in my life. and i've had some doozies. and this was just fan tattist working on this record. >> you know why that is? because you're clarvoint. >> that's what i've been trying to tell you. >> new project. from robie robinson, how to become clarvoint. it's a wonderful piece and everybody is talking about it. you might want to add this to
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your collection. good to have you on and congratulations on the success already. >> thank you very much. i appreciate it. >> up next, publisher larry flint with a provocative new text. of course it's larry flint. stay with us. we'll be back in just a moment. >> larry flint is of course the founder of hustler magazine and long-time advocate for first amendment rights. his book called one nation under sex, how the private lives of presidents, first ladies and their lovers changed the course of american history. always good to see you. >> good to see you. >> are you no are no slimbinging violent. we'll see what we can put out on public television. i was just up late last night watching for the upteenth time, the people versus larry flint. one of my favorite movies. and whether people like or
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loathe what you do, no one argues the, at least i don't, the contribution you made to first amendment rights and free speech in this country. when you look at that movie, what do you think of the movie? >> i think what's more is the price i paid for that fight. >> the price you paid? >> being in a wheel chair for 30 years. i'm not whining about it because i don't dwell on thinging i can't do anything about it. until somebody mentioned it i don't think about it. but i didn't did take a bullet. if i had it to do over, i would probably do it over again. >> i was just going to ask whether you would do the same thing. >> i would have to. i feel so passionate about free speech. >> why was that fight worth all of this? what makes it that significant for larry flint? >> well, i think you've got to understand the inaudible nubble
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realize the freedom of expression is no longer taken for granted and that's how that fight got started. every prosecutor in the country wanted a piece of me for years and i was always there to oblige them. >> i wonder whether or not after all these years, 30 years later, whether or not we're making progress to your mind in respecting first amendment rights, free speech, or whether or not, and i could argue, or whether or not we're losing ground. >> janice joplin 40 years ago sang the lyrics of a song, nothing left to lose but freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. well, those sentiments are more present today thanr before, because freedom is not the freedom for the thought you love. it's the freedom for the thought you hate the most. you have to be able to tolerate what you don't necessarily like
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so you can be free. you know, everybody believes in free speech until you start questioning about them. what do you think about flag burning? what do you think about hate speech? what do you think about pornography? and then they'll go, well, i didn't know you were talking about that. >> what most concerns you? you and i talk all the time i know you're a news junky. what most concerns you about the retread, the ground that we're losing? >> what concerns me more than anything, and it's the privacy issue. and the government is not doing anything about it in terms of the big companies like facebook and google. i'm not saying, i don't begrudge those people for making money. nothing wrong with that. but i think americans need to know when they're giving up their privacy. i think that's just as important as the speech issue. >> the privacy part. >> so the government is not
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really necessarily protecting people's right to free speech as well as they're not saying they have the right to privacy. >> what could, what should the government be doing bet anywhere that regard than they're doing now? >> well, number one, you should not be able to infringe on anybody's rights. you know? government should not be doing it and nobody else should be doing it. >> are you at all concerned that part of the ground that's giving way on free speech is in the name of protecting us from terrorism, protecting us from the boogie man? >> that's how it all started. that's how the patriot act got passed. but bush got that through and nobody objected because they felt that the country faced serious threats from abroad and it's still in place. and president obama allowed it to continue. and when you give up something,
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it's very, very difficult to get it back. >> thanks for answering those questions. i want to get your take on what was happening with these contemporary issues. love the title. to the title though, the subtitle specifically, how the private lives of presidents and their lovers changed the course of american history. you argue in this book and you believe that the sex lives of people in the white house really changed the course of history? >> absolutely. but there's more or less a denial from the beginning. his attorneys, journalists never wanted to believe that the marvelous man that drafted the declaration of independence would father six children by a young slave girl sally ham nds. and although there were rumors, it wasn't actually established until dna in 1998. now everybody knows it to be
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true. but there's many things in this book that aren't true that's very important -- are true. buchanan, james was a president before lincoln came in. he was gay. and you would think that someone who is gay would sort of identify with people who were being oppressed. but he did not. he was a staunch segregationist. and an advocate of slavery. and lincoln came in to the mess which he left. >> how much of what these persons did or didn't do has to do with the times? i hear people all the time make the argument, it's the times people live in. >> let me give you a better example. woodrow wilson, his mistress at the time actually dictated a letter that was sent to the german kaiser.
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this was before the united states ever decided they were going to enter into world war one. but later when wilson died or not died of a sfroke, when he had a stroke initially but he was just pretty much comatose after the stroke and edith, his wife, with the help of the white house doctor, hid this fact from congress and from the press for like three months. and during that three-month period of time there was a very important vote on the league of nations which wilson was trying to start and was part of the versi treaty. and who knows if that would have passed we might not have even had world war one in europe or not even later on with hitler in europe because nobody knows how effective the league of nations would have
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been. but he was only three short, three votes short in the senate and the other votes was controlled by senator henry cabinet lodge who they could easily have negotiated with him to get the votes. but wilson was not available to do it and nobody else knew his medical condition. so it lost. the treaty lost. and in the senate by three votes. so that's a good example. but there was a another example of roosevelt, tremendous, he had some very strong women in his life. >> franklin or theodore? >> franklin. i'm not saying whether these relationships were physical or platonic or what. but it doesn't matter. he still surrounded himself with a lot of strong women and i think in many ways gave him
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the strength he needed to get us through the depression and through world war ii. and i found out things that would surprise me in my research for the book. the youngest first lady was only 19 years old. and how that happened was when grover cleeveland was campaigning for the presidency, his wife died. so he married the nanny. and the nanny was only 19. and had five children in the white house. so the reason why i thought about that and it struck me is today, and you know we're supposed to be an advanced society. but today, we would not accept an 18 or 19-year-old as first lady. it just wouldn't happen. >> my time with larry is up now but i'm not done with this conversation so i'm going to ask you to go to our website because i've got the good
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stuff. and i'm going to get to it right now. if you go to you can see the rest of this conversation with larry flint. we'll continue with this on that's our show for the night. i'll see you next time. until then good knight from l.a. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit on >> joining me this week from new york with our guests. all next week. we'll see you then. >>
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